Wind Tunnel

I went out for another ride this morning at 7:15. Took the fixed-gear bike, rode down to the airport, around the BWI trail, and back home. Total round trip around 22 miles. The temperatures were in the upper 20s, but the real story was the wind. It didn’t really become a factor until the second half of the ride when I was riding west on the south side of the airport. At that point, the ride became a real grind.

No PolarTec top on this ride, despite the sub-freezing temperatures. I stuck with a short sleeve top, arm warmers, long sleeve jersey, and windbreaker, which was pretty comfortable for the entire ride. I wore some slightly heavier wool socks, and happily, my feet stayed warm for most of the ride. They didn’t start getting cold until the last half hour, and never got really uncomfortably cold. Oh, and my water bottle froze up. I guess it’s really winter now.

The BWI trail was a mixed bag. On the north side of the airport (which I rode first), it was almost completely clear, with just a few icy spots where the runoff had frozen. The south side was an entirely different story. There were a lot of areas which were completely impassable due to plowed snow. This was mainly on sections adjacent to Aviation Blvd and Dorsey Rd. I had to hop over to the road to get through these. The wooded area near the Dixon Aircraft Observation had a bunch of snowy spots, most of which were passable, but several of which I had to stop and dismount to cross. There was also a downed tree blocking the trail in one spot. The long wooden bridge along MD 170 was still almost completely snow covered. None of this was enough to make me detour off the trail, but the ride did take almost 40 minutes longer than usual. I’m glad I did the north section of the trail first, or I may have decided to detour or abort the ride.

All in all, it was a decent ride. The first half was enjoyable, and the second half will help gear me up for those morning commutes when it’s 15 degrees out with a wind chill of 2. 😉 This will probably end up being my last ride of the week, with more bad weather threatening for Thursday and Friday.

Rode today

Well, this morning I finally got the planetary alignment needed to sneak in a holiday-break ride.  Woke up early and snuck out while the rest of the family was still asleep.  Yesterday’s rain washed most of the remaining snow and salt off the roads.  While it wasn’t exactly great biking conditions, it was the best we’ve had in the last 10 days or so.  And the sun actually came out, too.

I did around 25 miles on the road bike through Ellicott City, Oella, Catonsville, and Arbutus, finishing up with my usual ride home through Relay and Patapsco State Park.  I took the road bike.  2 observations.  First, my back tire was still slipping quite a bit, mainly on New Cut Rd and in Ellicott City.  I stopped briefly and let a bit of air out of the tire, which seemed to help, that is, the tire didn’t slip any more after that.  I’m not sure if I’m hitting black ice, or if these tires (Continental Ultra Gatorskin) are just really bad when the roads are the least bit slick.  I’ve taken dozens of rides on them in really wet, albeit warmer, conditions, and had no problem, so I’m a bit puzzled.  In any case, I may see if riding them at around 90-100psi (vs 110-120) does the trick.

The second observation is that my rear fender is still giving me problems, even after removing it and spending ½ hour adjusting it prior to the ride.  I’m also a little confused as to why the fender is suddenly so prone to rubbing, after working fine for over a year.  But regardless, ½ hour is too long to have to spend fiddling with it to keep it from rubbing.  The problem with this bike is that there’s just not enough clearance for the fenders between the brakes and tires.  The fenders will fit, but if they fall even slightly out of adjustment, or if the wheel goes slightly out of true, the fenders start rubbing.  When they work, they’re great, but when they don’t, it’s aggravating.

I think I’m going to try moving the fenders to the fixed-gear bike, and make it my bad weather bike, at least for this winter.  The fixie has a lot more clearance for fenders, so I want to see how well they work.  It lacks rear eyelets, but I can fit a couple of p-clamps around the seat stays to attach the struts.   It may turn out to be just as big a hassle, but at least I’ll have tried.


So, unfortunately I bagged my last chance to bike yesterday before the big snowstorm.  Had to do a bunch of stuff around the house to get ready for the storm, and ran out of time to ride.  Looks like I’m going to be burning some cycles on the trainer over the next few days.  I don’t have a “winter” bike, and I have a feeling I’m really going to wish I had one this winter.  Next year I’m going to try to do something about that.  I would like to get sort of a “do anything” bike that I can take on roads, trails and occasional single track.  I’m not going to be doing hard-core technical single track or downhill riding, so I don’t see any need for a mountain bike with suspension.  I’m thinking about a cyclocross bike, except I would prefer to put disc brakes on it for riding in rain and snow.  The Soma DoubleCross DC frame looks really promising.  The Surly CrossCheck also looks nice, but lacks mounts for disc brakes.  Both are steel frames, so they should ride smooth and last a long time, and they have all the necessary mounts for racks and fenders.

I’m off for the rest of December, so I won’t be doing any more commuting till January, though I do hope to get some riding in once the roads are clear.

Night ride

It was right around freezing when I left work.  Wore the same clothes as the morning, minus the PolarTec top and plus arm warmers.  This was pretty comfortable.  The helmet liner by itself (no ear band) is enough to keep my head warm down to at least freezing, it seems.  Might see if I can go a little colder without the ear band.

I extended tonight’s ride to around 12 miles by riding a loop through Patapsco State Park (Glen Artney Rd to Grist Mill Trail to Swinging Bridge to River Rd).  Providing the trail is in good shape, this is a lot of fun after dark.  It’s quite the thing if you enjoy the feeling of solitude.  Quiet, dark, no one around and no lights except the bike headlight.  If I’m going to do this ride, I always try to ride it in the morning first to check the condition of the trail, so I know what to expect after dark.

The repair I made to my cheap rear blinker failed today.  The blinker fell off the bike twice, and the second time it pretty much fell apart.  I stopped and messed with it on the trail for a few minutes, but wasn’t able to get it to stay together.  Turns out one of the tabs that holds it together broke off.  Moral of the story: Don’t buy cheap blinkers.  And always carry at least 2 when riding after dark.  I still had my rack-mounted Planet Bike taillight, so I was good to go.

Tomorrow is my last ride before my long Christmas break, and there’s a big snowstorm predicted for the weekend.  If I can get moving early enough, I’m going to try to sneak in a longer ride in the morning, because it might be awhile before my next ride.  Will I be desperate enough to resort to the trainer?  Time will tell..  🙂

Hot & Cold

24 degrees at the start of the ride this morning, sunny with a 7mph west wind.  I took a 12 mile ride in.  Shoe covers, toe warmers, hiking socks, thermal jogging tights, bike shorts, short sleeve athletic shirt, long sleeve light cycling jersey, PolarTec pullover, windbreaker, medium weight cycling gloves, head band, helmet liner.  Feet didn’t get cold till the very end of the ride, but otherwise I was too warm, and got to work overheated and sweaty.  I need to lose at least one of the layers.  Short sleeve bottom layer maybe?  Rode the fixed again and will probably close out the week with this bike.

Last night’s ride was 34 with similar conditions, and I wore the same clothes minus the PolarTec.  It was an uneventful ride.

Ride notes

We are finally starting to get some more favorable conditions for road biking.  The roads are completely dry except for a couple puddles in the park.  I took the fixed-gear bike today and didn’t miss having fenders.  No road salt anywhere, either, which I’m going to enjoy while it lasts.  According to NWS, it was 31 when I left and 34 when I arrived at work.  I took the bike down Bonnie Branch Rd and through the park.  Usually when I go this way, I go straight out Montgomery Rd to Bonnie Branch.  As part of that, I need to go through the traffic light at Montgomery and Ilchester Rds., which can be a pain on the fixed-gear because it’s in the middle of an uphill climb.  Anyone who’s ever ridden fixed will tell you that it’s a pain starting uphill from a dead stop, particularly when you’re sandwiched between a bunch of impatient drivers.  So today, instead of approaching this intersection on Montgomery Rd, I detoured onto Kerger Rd, turned left onto Ilchester and made a right turn back onto Montgomery.  The traffic is actually worse this way, because it piles up quite a bit at the light, but the road is flat here so it’s a little easier to start and stop my way through it.  I’m still not sure which way is the lesser of the two evils.  I should probably avoid the intersection altogether and take Beechwood Rd to Bonnie Branch.  Beechwood is a pretty steep downhill that makes for quite the spinning extravaganza on a fixed-gear with a 42/18 ratio.

Clothing: shoe covers, toe warmers, thermal jogging tights, bike shorts, short sleeve shirt, light long sleeve cycling jersey, arm warmers, windbreaker, mid weight cycling gloves, head band, helmet liner.  This seems like a pretty good getup for low 30s.  I could probably even lose the arm warmers after the ride warms up a bit.

I still want to get a set of clip-on fenders for the fixed-gear so I can take it out in wetter conditions.  It’s amazing how much kruft gets on the downtube just by riding through a single puddle at 5mph.  The idea behind the clip-ons is that they’ll be quick to put on and take off as needed, unlike the full fenders on the road bike, which are attached with a huge rube-goldberg confection of bolts, zip ties and electrical tape.

Tonight’s ride home

Only 3 degrees difference between this morning’s ride temperature and this evening’s (49 vs 46) but that’s where the similarities end.  Cold front came through during the day, flipped the wind around to the northwest, and dropped the humidity a bit.  The result was a more comfortable ride home.  I wore the same clothes as the morning.

Road conditions are finally starting to improve a bit.  Things were considerably drier than this morning, with the exception of a few pesky washed-out areas in the park.

My rear derailleur started doing “surprise” shifts this morning and it was a lot worse at the beginning of this ride, until I fiddled with the cable tension doodad.  I guess these new cables are still breaking in after a couple of months.  In any case, I’m switching to the fixed-gear for the rest of the week.  The fixie is really starting to grow on me, with its smooth-riding, low maintenance steel frame and no tempermental derailleurs to worry about.

Maxing Out on Credit Card Reward Cash

I’ve always been a big fan of credit cards that pay cash rewards.  Pay the balance off in full each month, collect the free money – what’s not to like?  I started out in the early 90s with a Discover card, which was one of the first to offer cash back rewards.  Then in 2004, I switched to the American Express Blue Cash card.  Up to now, the Amex has been my main credit card except for places that don’t accept it.

Both Amex and Discover have “tiered” cash back programs.  The cash reward is a percentage of overall spending, and for both these cards, it’s a very small percentage until you meet a preset spending tier.  Then it increases.  Amex also pays a greater percentage back for certain purchase categories that Amex deems “every day purchases,” like grocery and drug stores.  Specifically, Amex pays 1% back for “every day purchases” and 0.5% for everything else until I reach $6500 in purchases.  Then it jumps to 5% for “every day” and 1.25% for everything else.  But what really matters is the bottom line: how much cash back do I earn in a given year vs. what I spend on the card?  With Amex, it typically works out to around 1.5%.  This will be different for different people; in particular, the more you spend in a year, the higher the percentage will go, particularly if a lot of the purchases fall into the “every day” category that earns 5%.  But in my case, the bottom line has hovered around 1.5% every year.

I’m always looking for a better deal, which means that if I can find a card that nets better than 1.5%, I’m going to check it out.  A few months back I read about the Schwab “Invest First” Signature Visa, which pays unlimited 2% cash back, so I signed up for the Invest First card and will now be using that instead of the Amex.

But there’s still more.  It turns out that my old Discover card, which I haven’t used in 5 years, has a 5% cash back program where certain purchase categories earn 5% back on up to $400 in purchases.  The categories change every 3 months, but as long as I stay on top of things, I can earn even more cash back by strategically using my Discover card.  With the combination of that and the Schwab card, my annual cash rewards should exceed 2% of purchases.

The bottom line:

  • Look for cards that pay cash rewards with no annual fee
  • Pay card balances off in full every month to avoid finance charges
  • After each year, figure out the “bottom line” percentage of cash back earned vs. total spent, and choose the card(s) that maximize that percentage for your own individual spending habits

I’m sure I’m not the most popular guy with the credit card companies, but as long as they keep offering the rewards, there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

This morning’s ride

I was all set to get an early start on today’s ride when the equipment gremlins struck.  First, the cheap plastic clip broke off the back of one of my rear blinkers.  Two blinkers are a must during the dark days of December, so I fashioned a new clip out of metal pipe strapping.  It’ll probably last longer than the old one.  Not sure what I’d do without pipe strapping, zip ties and duct tape in the toolbox.  But unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my troubles.  For some reason, my rear fender, after over a year of trouble-free operation, decided to start acting up today.  I noticed it occasionally hitting the tire during yesterday’s ride, so I figured, no problem, I probably just need to tweak one of the struts.  No such luck.  I ended up having to fiddle with it for 15 minutes to get it to stop rubbing.  I had to bend both of the struts at about a 10 degree angle just to get it aligned with the tire.  The wheel is straight and true, so I’m not sure what’s up with the fender.  When I get the chance, I’ll pull it off, straighten the struts, and carefully remount it.  Today I just wanted to get it to stop rubbing so I could leave on my ride.

Today’s conditions were almost identical to last night’s, except for it being light out.  The roads are still icky and wet with lots of standing water and gunk that sticks to the tires.  Definitely not ideal biking conditions.  I’d almost rather it be raining..  at least the rain would rinse the crap off the bike.  Weather was overcast and a very clammy 46 that felt more like 40.  Wore toe covers, hiking socks, leg warmers, cycling shorts, short sleeve athletic tee, light long sleeve cycling jersey, hi-vis windbreaker, light gloves, and head band.  The ride was about as comfortable as one would expect given the dampness.  Cold front is supposed to come through today, which will hopefully start to dry things out.


Kind of a double whammy of dark descending on us this week.  Not only are we into the shortest days of the year at one week removed from Winter Solstice, there’s also a new moon on Wednesday.  So this week’s evening rides are going to be…  dark, particularly in the park and on poorly-lighted Lawyers Hill Rd, towards the end of my ride.

Other than the utter blackness, tonight’s ride was uneventful.  The temperature was a not-quite-balmy 46, and I wore the same stuff as the morning, minus the rain pants and shoe covers.  My tires behaved much better after I wiped them down.  Road conditions were so-so.  Mostly dry but still some washed out areas, but still a lot of road grit and debris everywhere.

Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer with more fog in the morning.  The rest of the week looks dry.  I will probably take the road bike again tomorrow and then switch to the fixed-gear for the rest of the week.